The UK’s top 5 PR blunders since the start of lockdown last year – and how they could have been avoided


It was bad enough that tens of millions of us were stuck at home, however these companies and celebrities made us all feel worse, thanks to some very questionable Covid-19 lockdown behaviour.

Blunder one: Wetherspoons staff told to ‘go and work at Tescos – In a video message Tim Martin, the chairman of the profitable pub chain JD Wetherspoon told the company’s 43,000 plus staff it could not afford to pay their wages as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

In the message, Martin told staff that they should try and get a job at Tescos while it waited for the Government to reimburse their wages under the furlough scheme. This wasn’t Martin’s first lockdown controversy; he had insisted that the Government was wrong to shut down pubs back at the start of the national Covid-19 quarantine.

Kerry Hopkins, founder and CEO of the broadcast PR agency Broadcasters’ Academy said: “Martin could have reversed the original damage of his egregious statement, and put his famously outspoken nature to good use by offering NHS staff a free pint, or even 50% off Thursday curry club for anyone with NHS ID.”

Blunder two: Government appears to say ‘never put your child on the stage’ – A government campaign appeared to be dissuading young people from a career in the arts. The insensitive poster featured a young woman dressing for a ballet performance, with the slogan ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet). Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”

The poster was greeted with uproar from the entertainment community and from the public so much so that it went viral on social media. The photographer who took the picture told the BBC he was devastated that it was used for a campaign in this way.

Kerry Hopkins said: “I wonder who on earth could have created that campaign. I mean it was bordering on stupid. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that looking in with hindsight, but still, I’m not sure that campaign would have passed the Broadcasters’ Academy’s doors. The Government has committed to support the entertainment and arts industry, with around £1.57 billion promised so far. The money spent on the campaign might have been better redirected towards helping those on furlough within this sector.”

Blunder three: Rita Ora’s Birthday Party –  Pop star Rita Ora celebrated her 30th birthday in a London restaurant, allegedly paying the chef extra to not tell anyone about the gathering. The event ended early with police showing up to disperse Rita and some of her famous friends, whose reputation also took a nosedive.

Fall out from the party at Casa Cruz in November continued and in March 2021,  ITV confirmed Oti Mabuse would be replacing Rita as a judge on the next series of the ‘Masked Singer’. Rita is the only judge not returning for the new series – with Jonathan Ross, Mo Gilligan and Davina McCall and Joel Dommett on board.

Hopkins commented: “This is the kind of PR disaster you can see coming. You have to be especially careful following the Covid-19 lockdown rules when you are a celebrity or person of influence. That’s because people who contact the press about rule-breaking can get paid more for their tip-offs and stories so they are even more incentivised to make PR blunders like Rita’s public news.

“Not only that but nowadays everyone has a mobile phone so can not only take a photo but also capture a video of the crime scene, thus providing the media and courts with evidence and adding to the newsworthiness of the story! If that’s not enough, on top of that, the public are more incentivised to call the cops and the press as they don’t like to see people who are doing well financially in life, break the rules, as they think ‘it’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else’.

Kerry concluded: “I would advise Rita Ora and Tim Martin to volunteer for Covid-19-testing duty at school or helping with free food parcel deliveries from Food Banks. This would be a sign of them accepting their mistakes, eating humble pie, some of the public forgiving them and the two increasing their reputation again.”

Blunder four: Instagram influencers fly off to Dubai – Former contestants of reality TV programmes including “Love Island” and “Geordie Shore”, claimed their trips to Dubai were essential work trips and therefore exempt from the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The contestants, who use their Instagram accounts to work as paid influencers, were the subject of a verbal pasting in the Houses of Parliament from the home secretary, Priti Patel. Mrs Patel failed to see how the trips were essential, most agreed with her.

Hopkins said: “The power of these influencers may indeed wane, but the public vitriol directed at them acted as a reminder that if you live by the ‘gram, you die by the ‘gram. Companies using influencers during the pandemic might be better off sponsoring a charity campaign or a campaign that comes from the light to inspire and help more people during this difficult time.”

Blunder five: Footballer Kyle Walker breaks all lockdown rules – Manchester City footballer Kyle Walker held a birthday party early into the first lockdown with two prostitutes as guests of honour. The footballer broke lockdown rules three times in 24 hours. After a public apology, he broke lockdown rules again by travelling from Cheshire to South Yorkshire to see his family. It didn’t stop there, the right-wing back and father then went on social media giving a statement about how the press were now harassing his family and children.

Kerry Hopkins commented: “Fellow top footballer, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford showed the right way how to do it during lockdown with his campaign against free school meals being stopped during half term. If I was advising Kyle, I might advise him to hold a social-distanced Covid-19 compliant party for underprivileged children to give them a taste of the high life which will inspire some of them to greater things and open doors for them too.”